I was jogging with music blasting into my ears, when suddenly someone, caught me by my waist. Shocked, I turned, “What the f…” and realized who it was.”What’s up baby?” “What’s wrong with you, Niyati?” “Ha-ha, you should have seen your own face. You were all geared up to whip me, weren’t you?” “Yes, I was. We Delhi-ites are trained thrashers.” “I got scared.” Niyati faked a scary face. “So, what makes you jump out of the bed this early?” “Well, of course I didn’t wake up to accompany you for a jog. You know, I think it’s waste of time, even you should…” “Come to the point, Niyati.” I snapped. “And, someone calls Bombay-ites an arrogant tribe. Anyway, the point is, I have an early morning shift today. Want to come?” She asked. Niyati was a radio jockey. I didn’t feel like going. “Don’t make that weird face. Trust me, it’s in your interest.” “How?” “Well, my studio is in the part of Mumbai, you haven’t seen yet.” She said. She had me at that; I was intrigued. “So, shall we?” She asked. “But, I got to change.” “Oh, you look perfectly fine in this attire; besides the men of my studio wouldn’t be distracted.” She smirked. “Okay, let’s go.” I sighed.
“So, where is your studio?” I asked Niyati, once we were in her car. “Chembur” She stated. I waited for her to add more, when she didn’t, “And…?” “And, what?” “F… Niyati, you’re impossible. Tell me more about this place, Chembur.” “Ha-ha… You love me so much, don’t you? Chembur is an eastern suburb of Mumbai.” “Oh! Okay.” I said a little bemused. “Here, have a look of the Mumbai’s map.” She handed me her smart phone, with the Google map. “Study it properly, and let me drive in peace.” She said, and I ignored.
We reached her studio after an hour or so. It was a nice place; she introduced me to her colleagues, and gave me a tour of her office area. Niyati had to go on-air, so I told her that I’d manage my way to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was at the terrace of the building; it had a serene ambience, and with little drizzling, the weather glorified the ambience. I bought myself some hot coffee and sat at one of the table. The view in front of me wasn’t the best I’d seen, yet it was a good view. No, I didn’t feel like sketching, I just wanted to enjoy that moment. However, the moment didn’t last for long, “Alisha! I’ve been looking for you like a maniac.” “Could we stop being dramatic? You are done with your show?” “Nah, have set my listeners to a journey of some really shitty rainy songs.” She said, and I chuckled. “I hate this weather, it’s so depressing.” She said, and sighed. “What? I hate rains alright. They are yucky, muddy, and shitty.” “I don’t want to waste my time reasoning out with you. Okay so, I’m going to go, and explore eastern Mumbai.” “Okay ma’am, just don’t get lost okay. I can’t come searching for you in these rains.” She said. I gave her an irate look and waved her a bye. “Take the car?” She yelled behind me. “Nope” “Good decision” She said, and I left.
I went to certain nearby places; wandered here and there, and grasped Bombay, how much ever I could, through my eyes. I met Niyati at a restaurant close to her office, for lunch. “So, how did it go?” “Good, but I have to say, I like western Bombay more.” I said, and Niyati just smiled. “The food here is scrumptious, trust me.” “Do I have an option?” I said and started savoring the food that the waiter brought. It had started to rain heavily, by then. We finished our lunch, “This does not look good.” “What?” I asked. “The rain clouds; they seem treacherous.” She said. “Where are you planning to go now?” Niyati asked, before I could answer she said. “Don’t go too far, stay close to the office.” “Umm… Okay.” I said, bewildered.
I went to the crosswords bookstore that was exactly opposite to Niyati’s studio. It had been a while, since I’d read any book. Once there, I found a good book, which I wished to buy, and buried myself on a couch. I was so engrossed in the book that I didn’t realize that my phone had hit the floor, until a generous human directed my attention towards it. I checked my phone, and was perplexed to find fifteen missed-calls and ten messages from Niyati. “What on earth…” I mumbled to myself. I called her, but before I could say a ‘Hello’, “WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?” Niyati screeched, which actually made me fall from the couch. “Crosswords, opposite your office.” “FUCK YOU. LEAVE EVERYTHING, AND COME HERE RIGHT AWAY. I’M WAITING FOR YOU AT THE PARKING AREA. AM I UNDERSTOOD?” She yelled even more. “Yes.” I said, and she disconnected the phone. I didn’t realize why she was so angry and worried, until I reached the entrance of the Crosswords. “OH MY GOD!” I was terrified. It was raining torrentially. The water had started accumulating on the roads. “Since, how long has it been raining this heavily?” I asked a man standing next to me. “An hour, I guess.” He replied. Without wasting much time, I caught my umbrella and started walking towards Niyati’s office. The rains were so heavy, that midway my umbrella broke. I was petrified, I ran towards Niyati. She was waiting for me in the car. I got in the car, “Where’s your umbrella?” She asked as coldly as she could. “Broke” I replied, shivering. “Here, take this.” She handed me a towel. “Your colleagues?” I asked. “They left, thanks to you, I couldn’t” She said, and I cursed myself.
Silence had seeped in between us. Niyati was really pissed at me, and I cursed myself, again. It was difficult to drive; the rains were so heavy that it made it impossible to get even an ounce of clear view. I had never seen, or experienced rains of this magnitude. It was as if Bombay was experiencing God’s wrath, and it just didn’t seem to stop. I could feel the intensity of it sitting inside the car, by the noise that crept in, though the closed windows. I shuddered. I checked my phone, it was six in the evening; and there was no network. We were stalled in between of the road, as people were walking right in front of the car. Just then, someone knocked the window, and so Niyati pulled it down, “Ma’am it’s better you leave the car here, the area ahead is heavily flooded.” A stranger advised. Niyati sighed, and switched off the engine. Took her belongings, her umbrella and signaled me to get out of the car. I took the towel, wrapped it around me, and got off the car. Niyati and I shared the umbrella. She still didn’t talk to me, and it seemed fair, after all I had got her into this situation. Had we left early, we wouldn’t have faced this antipathy of rain Gods.
Bombay was totally flooded. We walked through water that came up to our waist. There were many people like us, walking along with us. Everyone kept praying to God. They talked to each other, and helped each other as if they were related. The fathers carried their kids on the shoulders. A lady walking ahead of me struggled in keeping her child afloat. “Give the kid to me for some time.” A lady next to her offered, and took the child. They kept taking turns to hold the child, and talked like sisters. I was in awe of these women. The rains had slowed down a little. We kept walking; my legs had gone numb because of the water. I was shivering, and so was Niyati. At the end of the road, I saw some gathering of the people; not until we reached there that, I realized what the gathering was for. Certain people who stayed in that locality had taken to streets, had gotten off their cozy homes, to help the people stranded by the floods. They offered biscuits and bottles of water to everyone. I was speechless by their philanthropy act. “There… let’s go in that bus. It’ll take us home, of course when the water is drained off the street.” Niyati said, and we went into the bus.
There were many distraught people like us, already sitting inside the bus. We caught our seats and then, “See, this why I hate rains. You saw how devastating it gets, right. Imagine the condition of the homeless people.” She said, and I shrugged at that thought. “So many people die every monsoon. Many lose their houses too floods. Many die of the sickness that monsoon brings. How much ever, and whatever government does, it’s never enough.” She said. A drop of tear trickled down my cheek. “I’m sorry Niyati… I’m really sorry to get you in this situation.” “Here, have some biscuits. I don’t have the strength to carry you, if you pass out.” She joked, and I smiled. We both ate few biscuits, “Alisha I don’t get angry very often, but when I get…” She smirked, and I cracked. “You’re dangerous like that.” “Ha-ha… Now, try getting some sleep.” Niyati rested her head on the windowpane; I rested on her shoulder. Any other day, I wouldn’t have gotten sleep even for a second, but today I was exhausted.
We both woke up when the bus started moving. “What time is it?”I asked. “It’s five in the morning.” “Better call up at home.” I suggested. “Aah… yes.” Niyati said. We hadn’t been able to call last night, though Niyati had messaged her dad about our safety and whereabouts. The bus caught speed. The rains and floods had managed to devastate much of Bombay. “So, now you hate rains?” Niyati asked. I smiled, and answered, “Nope. Every good, has bad attached to it.” Niyati sighed. Finally, after an hour we reached our destination. Once at home, aunt smothered both of us with some hot green tea, and wrapped us in cozy blankets. Sleep came the moment I hit the bed.
I woke up to my mom’s call. Aunt had briefed her last night about our encounter with the floods. After, assuring and re-assuring her I kept the phone down. I went to the balcony of the living room, and saw some people gearing up for work. “You should get more sleep, dear.” Niyati’s dad advised. “Uncle, yesterday Bombay faced a devastating floods that almost washed all of Bombay, and today people… “I said, uncle smiled understanding my bewilderment, said, “You must have heard that Mumbai, or Bombay never sleeps.”He said, and I nodded in agreement. “Bombay also, always, bounces back.” He said and left. Those words lingered around me for a good amount of time. Bombay didn’t fail to surprise me, again.
I woke exhausted at around noon. I had been dreaming about the floods, with the flashes of those parts of Bombay that I had sketched. I went to the balcony, and tried deciphering the dream. I came back to the room gazed at my oil paints, and then I got my answer.
“Alisha what are you doing?” “Niyati stop asking questions and just do as I say. When I signal you, keep that paper on the edge of the one I’m holding.” “Umm… okay” She said. I appended two A6 size-drawing sheets. “Okay, now you can leave. And, don’t disturb me until I ask you to.” “But…” “Okay, go now.” I shoved her off the room. I looked at the drawing sheet that was laid in front of me, on the floor. I closed my eyes for some time, and then after opening them, “Come on Alisha, this is it. This is the door to your new life.” With that thought, I started my painting.
I started at eight in the night and completed at ten in the morning. I was viewing my completed painting when, “Enough Alisha, you need to stop…” Niyati started, but then her eyes fell on the painting. “OH MY GOD… You’re one crazy girl… This is so fucking mindboggling.” She said. My painting was the gist of the Bombay I had seen, experienced, and understood. The middle portion of the painting depicted the floods, the slums, and the atrocities of Bombay. The aesthetic beauty of Bombay, the salient features of Bombay, and the beautiful landscapes of Bombay, shielded those depravities of Bombay, and covered the outer region of my painting. Most of my earlier sketches found their place in my painting. “I see you have added the ‘Bollywood’ element too, in the painting.” Niyati smirked, and I smiled. “I love you Alisha, you’re the best.” She said, and went out of the room to call uncle and aunt. I wasn’t only contented with my painting, that day, I was happy, and sanguine.
“Alisha, we’re getting late.” Mom screeched. “Dear, today is an important day for you, you shouldn’t be late.” Dad joined. “Give me a minute folks.” I yelled back, then took a deep breath and stepped out of the room. “Alisha….” Mom started, but lost her words when she saw me. “Oh dear…. Look at you…. When did our daughter get this old?” Mom asked dad. Dad didn’t say anything, but I knew he was awestruck. I had worn a sari, for the first time in my life. Dad came up to me, kissed my forehead, and said, “Shall we?” He offered me his arm, and blissfully I took it; and then we headed to my destination. “Here we are.” Mom said. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and then read, ‘Welcome to the Nehru art gallery, Delhi. Today we’re showcasing, for the first time, the work of a young amateur artist, Alisha Khan. Enjoy her, ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’.’
Once, while travelling in Bombay, I had seen a weird sticker on a rickshaw, it read, ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ and hence I decided to use that name for my first art exhibition, a name that easily illustrated the essence of Bombay, its people.
My dad had been speechless when he had seen my work; he had immediately called his friend who arranged this exhibition. Dad had said he was proud of me after he saw my artwork, and mom had said, “Sending you to Bombay, was the best decision I’ve made in a long, long time.” I knew even Hrehaan would have been proud of me. I smiled at that thought. It no longer hurt in reminiscing him. “Let’s go in, dear.” Dad suggested, and we entered to view my first art exhibition.
A good amount of people had come to view the exhibition. People praised my work, and complimented me. The manager of the exhibition came to me and said, “Ma’am a renowned artist has come to view your exhibition. He’s from Bombay.” “What’s his name?” I asked. “Ma’am actually when I asked him, he said, ‘what’s in a name?’ I don’t…” “Where is he?” “Right there ma’am, viewing your painting.” Manager said, and I smiled. I went up to the person and said, “Mr. Anonymous.” He turned “Miss. Anonymous… Well no, now I know your name, Alisha Khan.” “May I have the pleasure to know yours?” “Only if you promise to never stop this fountain of creativity and art.” “I promise,” I said. “Rajat Khanna, here… So what next, Delhi?” “Umm… Nope, I’ve decided to paint my city, the last. Best should always be reserved for last, you see.” I winked. “Ha-ha… Fair enough. I’m not sure if that painting is more beautiful, or the creator of that painting.” I just blushed at his remark. “You know Alisha; these are not the best of your work. The best is with me.” “Huh?” I was confused. He then removed something from his pocket, a tissue paper, that tissue paper which changed my life. My first sketch of Bombay. “Thank you Rajat, you’ve changed my life.” I said to him with tears in my eyes. “Sorry Alisha, but you will have to wipe those tears on your own; this tissue is too precious to wipe them.” He winked, and I laughed. I finally, got my life back.